If we follow the time line closely in Mark's Gospel the event in Jesus' life
we hear about this Sunday, rounds off an action-packed day. Jesus has a
serious run-in with his townsfolk, his Mother and family, he has taught five
outstanding parables, explained the detail of one of them, and then in the
evening ventures out on the lake, encounters a storm, and clams it. Talk
about a busy day!
The context matters.
Throughout the first four chapters of Mark's Gospel it is increasingly clear
that Jesus has divine powers. He drives out demons, he heals the sick, he
teaches with authority and he repeatedly speaks about God's Kingdom as if
from first hand experience. Now in the space of six verses, all our
suspicions are confirmed, not in words for that will come later, but in
There are lots of giveaways in the text. The calming of the storm is the
first 'nature miracle' in Mark's Gospel. Like many expectant brides
anticipating their wedding days, the Jews believed that God, and God alone,
destined the weather. He was the master meteorologist. It's clear that some
of the other miracles that Jesus did were not a surprise to those around
him. The Pharisees don't seem to take exception that Jesus heals people,
just that he does it on the Sabbath. This leads us to conclude that others
did these things as well. But no one else gets nature to obey a command.
That God's prerogative.
Three Old Testament stories have a strong influence on this one. Firstly
there is Genesis where God's Spirit "hovers over the waters" from which
creation springs forth. Secondly there is Exodus where the Red Sea parts and
the Israelites make their bid for freedom in the Promised Land. Finally
there is Psalm 107 where God "reduces the storm to a whisper until the waves
grew quiet, glad at the clam, and safe to the port they were bound for."
The first hearers of the Gospel would have easily drawn the dots between
those stories and this one. By invoking these images Mark is not just saying
that Jesus is a man God likes and is using to do some spectacular things,
but now he is revealed as a man who can command nature. He is the Son of
God. In fact to underline the continuity between his all of Jesus miracles,
Mark says the same command Jesus used at his first healing miracle in
chapter one, is the same as gives here at his first nature miracle: Be
So that's how the story works on a theological level, but it was also had
another importance for Mark's community. Most scholars think that this
Gospel was written for the earliest Church in Rome. We know that these
believers were persecuted from the beginning. Images of storms, waves and
being swamped were then, as now, metaphors for the rough patches in life,
and so we can imagine what this story meant to the Christians who were
paying with their life for believing in Jesus. Mark reassures them that
Christ hears their pleas and will not be outdone in fidelity.
And what was true for them is true for us. Roy Campanella picks up the
complexity of our prayers in adversity in "A Creed For Those Who Have
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve.
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do great things.
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy.
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life.
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing I asked for - but everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
Not that we believe that God directly 'sends' us infirmity, poverty, and
weakness, but if these are the storms of life that are presently swamping us
or whipping up around us, then we can indeed experience the miracle of
Christ's power in obedience, wisdom, dependence and joy.
And maybe the sort of position we are meant to take when the storms in our
life hit is the same one as Jesus - the prone position. For as Psalm 4 says,
"In peace I lie down and fall asleep at once, since you alone, O Lord, keep
me perfectly safe."
I don't know about you, but I am going to have to work on that one!
Richard Leonard, S.J.